Cork City (Ireland)

Located on the southern coast, Cork (population 225,000) is Ireland’s second largest city. Its name is derived from the Irish language word ‘corcach’, meaning ‘marsh’ – referring to its twelfth-century foundation on a series of small islands within the River Lee (since fused together as the modern city centre flanked by the north and south channels).  Over time, the city extended from the valley into the surrounding steep hilly landscape and eastwards alongside the world’s second-largest natural harbour, running into the Atlantic. This location creates sustainable development opportunities – Cork is increasingly looking to embrace its aquatic resources – but also environmental challenges, mainly flooding-related, sometimes combining pluvial, fluvial and tidal events and impacts. More generally, Cork is undergoing unprecedented transformation with ambitious growth targets which will need to be sustainably managed with an emphasis on factors such as compact development, attractiveness, quality of life, health and well-being as well as on resilience.

Sustainability focus: Green & Blue Infrastructure

Cork City Council has long used the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to align its work with global ambition. The city’s primary land-use planning document (Cork City Development Plan 2022-2028) has been particularly informed by nature-based solutions, including use of sustainable practices in the planting and maintenance of natural spaces and production of a Green & Blue Infrastructure Study (2022). Outcomes since have included:

  • 85% of summer bedding planting is now pollinator-friendly – a 55% increase on 2020.
  • Over 9,000 trees planted in the last two years with Cork City Council’s first Tree Strategy adopted in 2024, based on a collaborative approach to double the city’s tree cover in the long term.
  • 29ha of land set aside for wildflower meadows.
  • 26 community gardens developed.
  • 129 individual allotments developed.
  • 15 parklets developed with local community and business partners. This involved converting parking spaces into recreation spaces with seating, planting etc.
  • 5 public parks have received the benchmark Green Flag status for management of biodiversity.
  • A total ban on use of glyphosate in Cork City Council’s maintenance of green areas.
  • Completion (2023) of the first phase of a major new regional amenity, Marina Park, which doubles as a key climate adaptation intervention, acting as a flood storage basin during periods of pluvial flooding.
  • The planning of a future 100ha Regional Park for the growing suburbs in the Northwest Quarter.
  • New EU projects are underway on urban renaturing in districts of socio-economic disadvantage (GreenInCities - Horizon Europe) and on inner-city greening (GreenDense –Interreg North West Europe). Previous projects include the Urban Agenda Partnership on Sustainable Land Use & Nature-based Solutions.


The need to knows

  • Cork City has been mandated by the National Planning Framework to be the fastest growing Irish city over the next generation, with an ambitious 50% increase in population to 335,000 planned by 2040 in order to provide a strong national counterbalance to the dominance of Dublin and an emerging international city of scale.
  • To enable the sustainable planning and management of these ambitions, the city’s administrative area was expanded by almost 400% (to 187km2) in 2019, incorporating the surrounding hinterland and 85,000 new residents. 
  • A pipeline of significant infrastructural investment in housing, sustainable transport, parks, public spaces and climate resilience – enabled by the Cork City Development Plan 2022-2028 – is supporting growth in areas such as:
  • The Cork Docklands (160 ha.) - one of the biggest brownfield regeneration sites in Europe set to create a new liveable, walkable, and welcoming urban community accommodating 20,000 new residents and the services they will need within the city’s existing footprint, while having the capacity for 25,000 jobs as well as 40ha of open and green space.
  • A €3.5 billion investment in Cork’s transport infrastructure set to deliver: a new 17km cross-city tram system to tie in with the existing mainline train network, also enhanced by the opening of 5 new suburban rail stations across the north of the city plus 3 more in its hinterland; over 50% bus service provision increase by 2026 as the Bus Connects scheme; 30km of new cycle lanes, adding to the 64km that have been developed in the last few years.

It is envisaged that the full delivery of the associated Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy (CMATS) will increase the share of journeys taken using sustainable transport modes from 33% to 50% by 2040. Other projects include:

  • €1.9 billion investment by 2026 in housing will see the provision of high-quality homes with a minimum energy rating of A2.
  • €61 million is currently being invested in public realm upgrades to enhance the attractiveness of the of the city centre’s Grand Parade Quarter for recreation, business and cultural activity.
  • Flood defence schemes protecting hundreds of properties in Douglas and Togher have recently been completed with others currently under preparation.

The city is also carrying out other initiatives outside infrastructural investment:

  • As part of the EU Climate-neutral & Smart Cities Mission, Cork is seeking to accelerate its transformation to net-zero carbon emissions. An extensive household survey on attitudes to climate action (2023) indicated that nearly two-thirds of citizens want Cork to become a more sustainable place to live and work including 86% favouring more pedestrianised streets and 92% supporting more parks, biodiversity and green spaces. This feedback has shaped the 5 themes gathered in the Climate Action Plan: Governance & Leadership; Communities & Partnership; Built Environment & Energy; Transport & Mobility; and Natural Environment & Resource Management. Among its planned deliverables is establishing a community leadership development programme to build grassroots knowledge, confidence, and capacity to initiate local climate action.
  • Cork is an increasingly diverse city with 21.3% of the population having been born outside Ireland. Its international attractiveness is strongly driven by two universities (UCC and MTU) and a high-performing industrial profile which hosts over 200 multinational companies, employing 45,000 people with clusters operating across sectors such as pharmaceuticals, technology, cybersecurity and financial services. The Financial Times’ ‘Cities of the Future’ awards (2023) placed Cork second overall among small European cities for its investment credentials and first for economic potential.
  • Since 2012, the EcCoWeLL concept (derived from the OECD), has been much used in local policymaking as a means to bring together the sectors of ecology & economy (Ec), community & culture (Co) and well-being & lifelong learning (Well) to bring about holistic thinking and outcomes. This approach provides a platform for integrating strategies such as the Healthy City and Learning City (see below).



  • Designated as part of the EU Climate-Neutral & Smart Cities Mission.
  • An accredited UNESCO Learning City since 2015, including a commitment to supporting a culture of lifelong learning to facilitate individual empowerment, build social cohesion, nurture active citizenship and lay the foundation for sustainable development by promoting economic and cultural prosperity.
  • An accredited WHO Healthy City since 2012, including an overarching mission to address the health inequities faced by poor, marginalised and vulnerable sections of society arising from social, transport and education policy as well as from physical and built environmental conditions.
  • Ranked third at the 2023 EU iCapital Awards in the ‘Rising Innovative City’ category in recognition of how the different actors and organisations that make up the local innovation ecosystem – including the two universities – are brought together to work towards ultimately improving quality of life and well-being for citizens and communities.


  • Endorser of the Basque Declaration (2016).
  • Signatory to the Covenant of Mayors (2018).
  • Signatory of the Mannheim Message (2020).
  • Signatory to the Charter of the EU Mission on Restoring our Oceans & Waters.
  • Signatory to the Charter of the EU Mission on Adaptation to Climate Change.
  • Among Irish local authorities, Cork City Council was the first to declare a Climate & Biodiversity emergency (2019) and to produce an Air Quality strategy (2021).

What the city has to say

“With our city set to grow very significantly over the next generation, we in Cork have equally big ambitions to ensure that this takes place sustainably. Achieving this requires strong emphases on delivering compact urban development; vibrant neighbourhoods and communities; economic vibrancy and resilience; natural resource protection; and health, well-being and quality of life for our citizens. Having stepped forward among Europe’s most forward-looking cities to be designated as part of the EU Climate-Neutral & Smart Cities Mission – a daunting commitment but also a golden opportunity that will be transformative in shaping the Cork of the future – we recognise the value in broadening our horizons in search of inspiration and solutions.

Just as we are now implementing numerous EU-supported partnership projects on different sustainability themes – including some working directly alongside ICLEI – our membership of the network opens further doors for Cork in terms of connecting and collaborating with likeminded peers to learn from their good practices and innovative approaches. Despite our geographical isolation on the Atlantic periphery of Europe, this gives Cork a stake and a voice in an influential and vocal local sustainability movement.’’

Cllr. Kieran McCarthy, Árdmhéara Chorcaí  / Lord Mayor of Cork 2023-2024

ICLEI and Cork:

Cork City has been a member of ICLEI since 2017 and has endorsed the Basque Declaration (on new pathways for cities and towns to create productive, sustainable and resilient cities for a liveable and inclusive Europe) and the Mannheim Message on local green deals. The latter is now informing Cork’s involvement in the Intelligent Cities Challenge 2.0 initiative in seeking to purposefully engage specific economic stakeholders in delivering on aspects of the Cities Mission.

Both organisations are also among the consortium (alongside fellow members Budapest and Kozani) which is implementing the TIPS4PED project from 2024-2027. Approved under Horizon Europe’s 2023 Missions Work Programme, this aims to test and replicate Digital Twin-based platform solutions for Positive Energy Districts, supporting municipalities in decision-making with evidence-based results through focuses on environmental sustainability, cost reduction, a people-centric approach to citizen engagement and by engaging citizens. Cork’s focus will relate to the Docklands (see above).

In addition, Cork City Council, working with University College Cork, has recently joined the Horizon Europe FEAST project on sustainable local food systems development and will serve as a living lab alongside Gent and Lodz among other members. This work will revolve around the Cork Food Policy Council – a partnership for the development of a healthy and sustainable food system with representation from the community, food retail, farming, fishing, restaurant/catering, education, environmental, health and local authority (city and county) sectors.